On September 2nd the Illinois Mycological Association exhibited a wide variety of mushrooms (50-100 specimens) foraged from neighboring forests. The room in Chicago Botanic gardens was filled with energetic members who couldn’t keep up with the flood of questions from visitors curious about mushrooms and fungi. The phones and cameras were clicking away, and visitors lingered – the room was filled with energy that was fed by these mysterious fungi.
10 facts about mushrooms
- Mycology is the study of fungi and their use to humans as a source for medicine and food, as well as their dangers, such as poisoning or infection, and their benefits to natural ecosystems.
- Fungi are very difficult to observe. What we call a mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger and essential invisible organism that lives most of its live underground.
- Mushroom is a “fruiting body” of a subterranean network of microscopic hyphae, improbably long root like cells that thread themselves through the soil like neurons.
- Fungi, lacking chlorophyll, differ from plants in that they can’t manufacture food energy from the sun
- Most of the fungi we eat obtain their energy by one of two means: saprophytically, by decomposing dead vegetable matter, and mycorrhizally, by associating with the roots of living plants.
- Among the saprophytes, many of which can be cultivated by inoculating a suitable mass of dead organic matter (logs, manure, grain) with their spores, are the common button mushrooms, shitakes, cremini, Portabellos, and oyster mushrooms.
- Most of the choicest wild mushrooms are nearly impossible to cultivate, since they need living and often very old trees in order to grow, and can take several decades to fruit.
- A single fungus recently found in Michigan covers an area of forty acres underground and is thought to be a few centuries old.
- The talent of fungi for decomposing and recycling organic matter is what makes them indispensable, not only to trees but to all life on earth. If the soil is the earth’s stomach, fungi supply its digestive enzymes. Without fungi to break things down, the earth would long ago have suffocated beneath a blanket of organic matter created by plants.
- Mushrooms are surrounded by mysticism that has been highlighted in mycological literature, even though they may be just speculations and haven’t been proven by science: ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms by higher primates spurred the rapid evolution of human brain (Terance McKenna); hallucinogenic mushrooms ingested by early man inspired the shamanic visions that led to the birth of religion (Gordon Wasson); the ritual ingestion of a hallucinogenic fungus ergot by Greek thinkers (including Plato) at Eleusis is responsible for some of the greatest achievements of Greek culture (Wasson); wild mushrooms in the diet, by nourishing the human unconscious with lunar energy, “stimulate imagination and intuition” (Andrew Weil).
Source: The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan